Getting a doctor’s appointment can be hard enough, but when you only have about 7 minutes with your GP, it’s no wonder you leave out the odd detail. But could the embarrassing or trivial details you you don’t tell your doctor be the most important?
These are the most common secrets we keep from our doctors – how many are you hiding?
My family history is less than perfect
Think your sister’s underactive thyroid or dad’s high cholesterol are details your doctor doesn’t have time for? Not so. ‘Family history is the one area in which you should always over disclose’, says GP Dr Pixie McKenna, who co-presents Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies.
Why should I tell? Breast, ovarian and colon cancers, plus high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and, for women, thyroid problems, are important if they run in your family.
According to Cancer Research UK, if two or more close relatives has cancer before the age of 60, you may benefit from genetic testing. First degree relatives (parents and grandparents) matter most. “But grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also important”, says Dr McKenna.
“Depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia run in families too, but patients might be too embarrassed to mention them.”
I’m on a new juice-only diet
You couldn’t resist the ‘lose ten pounds in ten days’ promise and have only consumed carrot and beetroot juice for a week.
Why should I tell? You’ve seen the advice to check with your doctor before starting a diet, but do you really have to?
‘Not only can this diet cause dehydration, but oral contraceptives or drugs for epilepsy need to stay in the body for a certain length of time to effective’, explains James McLay, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. ‘Extreme flushing with juice fasts can render these ineffective and cause symptoms to return.’
I have half a bottle of wine most nights
You enjoy a large glass or two of red wine with dinner. Does your doctor really need to know?
Why should I tell? A survey found that 83% of us believed drinking a little more than government guidelines wouldn’t put our health at risk. But just two large glasses of 13% alcohol wine (that’s 6.5 units) could double your risk of high blood pressure and increase your breast cancer risk.
Dr Graham Archard from the Royal College of Genereal Practioners (RCGP) says, ‘You may feel fine, but alcohol has an additive effect on the liver over many years, which means that diseases such as cirrhosis may be developing without symptoms.’
If you’re feeling tired all the time and drink more than a couple of small drinks a night, the British Liver Trust suggests talking to your doctor about liver testing. A liver function test can pick up early warning signs such as raised liver enzymes in your blood, says Dr Archard.
The good news? ‘The liver can repair itself, so a few days of not drinking each week could reverse the damage if it’s caught early’.
I haven’t been candid about my sexual past
Confessing a colourful sex life to your doctor can be difficult. But in the last decade, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have doubled in the over-45s.
Why should I tell? Not all STIs have symptoms – but they can have serious knock-on effects. If you have ever been abroad and had a tattoo or an unprotected summer romance, you may have contracted hepatitus B or C, which can remain symptom-less in the body for years.
If your partner has been unfaithful but you can’t bear to tell your GP, you can attend a GUM clinic for an STI screen off-record.
I didn’t take those pills you prescribed
You felt better, hated the side effects, or forgot. ‘A lot of people don’t take their medication as prescribed’, says Dr Layla McCay, GP and health policy advisor.
Why should I tell? We all know stopping prescribed antibiotics before you have finished the course means the infectio may recur. But what if you are prescribed something you would prefer not to take like beta-blockers or antidepressants?
If you decide they are not for you, it’s important to tell your doctor so they can proceed accordingly. ‘If you don’t take your prescription and end up sicker, but we don’t realise that you haven’t tried the medication, we may prescribe something stronger, which may in turn cause more side effects’, says Dr McCay.
Equally, it’s worth informing your doctor about any non-prescription supplements you’re taking, as many can be toxic when they interact with medication, or reduce its effectiveness. Evening primrose oil, for example, interacts harmfully with 350 different medications, including aspirin. And innocuous-seeming calcium supplements interact with medications such as warfarin for blood pressure.